It is a heartbreaking illness that is always fatal, but at least a new device is helping patients with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease, live a little longer, and that is a tremendous gift for people like Susan Larson who wants to live long enough to see her son get married next year, before I show you the device. You need to understand the problem. ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease, attacks the body's nerves and muscles. Patients eventually lose their ability to breathe, and need a mechanical ventilator to survive. But, that can be risky in itself.
"Just being on that ventilator changes your life expectancy because of the risk of pneumonia," says Raymond Onders, M.D. a surgeon at University Hospital of Cleveland.
Susan was the first ALS patient in the country to undergo the same procedure that Doctor Onders performed on Christopher Reeve. With special instruments, two electrodes are placed on each diaphragm. The electronic device then stimulates the muscles and nerves, allowing muscles to contract so air can enter the lungs.
"What we're trying to do is help the patients with one of the major issues that they face, how to breathe, how to breathe with their own muscle," says Dr. Onders.
The device has done more than that for Susan. Her lung capacity has improved too. Doctor Onders says the device has already extended Susan's life by nine months, precious time for a woman who has a wedding to go to in 2006. By the way, patients may be candidates for this new procedure if their lung capacity is above 45 percent. Dr. Onders adds that a mechanical ventilator can cost up to 150 thousand dollars a year. This new device with the cost of outpatient surgery is about 15 thousand dollars.